Saturday, July 4, 2020

Waldo Lake (via Betty Lake)

Waldo Lake is justifiably famed not only for its amazingly clear water, but also for it's size. Statistically, it is Oregon's third largest natural lake and its ponderous bulk has certainly impressed me from different summits of various peaks ringing the sapphire blue lake. But just like Waldo of "Where's Waldo?" fame, Waldo Lake is not alone as the lake is surrounded by a crowd of lesser lakes dotting the forest like so many freckles on an overly sun-exposed backside. Any trail excursion leading away from Waldo Lake's immediate shoreline will undoubtedly run into one of these smaller lakes and today's hike would take me past several of them on my own little quest to find the ever so elusive Waldo.

The clarity of Waldo Lake is an attraction in its own right
After yesterday's Fuji Mountain outing was all wrapped up, I bid adieu to my friends and whereas they went back to Roseburg, I made the much shorter drive to Waldo Lake Road. After parking on a gravel turnout, I walked into the woods with a sleeping bag and tent and began setting up. Almost immediately, I frantically ran screaming out of the woods to grab the bottle of Deet sitting on the front seat. The incessant savagery of the winged Dracula spawn made the Fuji Mountain mosquito swarms seem like a peacenik convention in comparison.

Betty Lake in the early morning
Anyway, after a "restful" night listening to some large creature tromping through the forest next to my tent all night long, I set out on the Betty Lake Trail. Right at the start, the forest sloped away from the trail and I caught a glimpse of Lower Betty Lake hiding behind the trees. There is no trail leading to Lower Betty Lake and it would have been only a short bushwhack away, but I had other places to get to. Forgoing the bushwhack venture, I stayed on the upper side of Lower Betty and after maybe a half mile, a small use trail advertised the nearby presence of Betty Lake herself. Betty Lake was placid and serene, the surface lightly ruffled by barely perceptible air currents. It was here that I found out that if you keep walking, the mosquitoes are barely tolerable but when you stop hiking to say, take some photos of a beautiful lake, then its a fresh new hell for warm-blooded hikers, regardless of whether they have slathered on Deet or not. Yikes, I had forgotten what the Waldo Lake area in July was like!

Howkum Lake, asking "Howkum?" for all eternity
Anyway, Betty Lake was eminently beautiful and I toughed it out, quickly snapping off some photos of the peaceful lake before returning to the Betty Lake Trail. After another mile or so of hiking, Howkum Lake came into view, probably named that because BecuzIsedzo didn't fit on the trail sign. Or maybe some pioneering explorer asked "Howkum ther R so men E dang mozkitoes?" They spoke phonetically back in those days. The trail followed long and slender Howkum Lake and ominously named Horsefly Lake before coming to Tiny Lake, probably called that because it's really small. Or maybe that's what Betty Lake derisively calls him ever since they quit dating, just saying. Given a few more minutes, I could probably come up with some crude story of how Lower Betty Lake got her name but it's probably best if we just leave that one alone and continue hiking instead.

Numerous ponds supplied numerous mosquitoes
Leaving the small but named lakes behind, the trail went gently up and down through a thick forest that was pleasantly shaded. The track passed all sorts of little ponds and wet spots, which would explain in part, the ample mosquitude tormenting hikers in this part of the world. A right turn onto the Jim Weaver Trail (also colloquially referred to as the Waldo Lake Trail) took me onto a path that went downhill to Waldo Lake itself. For the next few miles, the trail followed the south shore of Waldo Lake, alternating between marshy meadows, shady forest, and open lake shore. The open shore was the most preferable biome to hike in, for while the views were stunning and all that stuff, the main attraction was the brisk breeze blowing across the lake and onto the shore, effectively preventing the little bloodsuckers from being able to motate in my direction.

The meadows were full of shooting stars
This area had obviously been covered with snow until just recently, for the meadows were basically shooting stars, grass, and marsh marigolds growing in several inches of mosquito-spawning standing water. Did I mention there were lots of mosquitoes, already? In some places the standing water completely covered the trail, including one thirty yard stretch of water nearly a foot deep. Needless to say, boots got plenty wet on this hike. They also got muddy too, as there were several squishy sections of trail that had been thoroughly churned up by passing mountain bikers.

Beargrass grew along the lake in places
However, despite my grumbling about marshy conditions, the meadows were just sublime with acres of green grass ringed by tall trees under a deep blue sky. Blooming in the meadows were white and yellow-centered marsh marigolds, somewhat resembling a floral version of fried eggs. They were brightly counterpointed by bright pink shooting stars and I have no culinary metaphor to describe them with. I also got to see my first beargrass blooms of the year, their feathery white plumes waving gently in the steady breeze wafting off the lake.

The South Waldo Shelter, where
mosquitoes prey on backpackers
I stopped at the South Waldo Shelter to rest for a minute and wax nostalgic. On an epic backpack trip around Waldo Lake years ago, we camped here at the shelter. That three-day trip was also done in July and despite the experience, Dollie is still married to me and John and Jennifer are still my friends. Reminiscing can be a pleasant hiking pastime, but not when that activity leaves you vulnerable to the singularly unpleasant experience of being exsanguinated one mosquito bellyful at a time, So, on with the hike!

Waldo Lake on a breezy day
Waldo Lake is a special place. Motors of any sort are absolutely prohibited on the lake, so the water quality is as pure as a mountain lake should be. The trail hugged the shoreline in places, offering amazing views of the lake made perpetually peaceful by the lack of buzzing boat motors. Nearby forested peninsulas and islands were equally scenic, with tranquil waterways separating islands and shore. The lake is ringed by mountains and across the vast blue expanse rose the Three Sisters and other lesser volcanic peaks. Much closer and on the east side were the symmetrical cones of Maiden Peak and The Twins. If this sounds a lot like the scenery description from my Fuji Mountain hike, that stands to reason for Fuji Mountain was right behind me as I gazed north across the large body of water.

Mama Duck escorts her brood to safety
I departed the trail for a bit to explore a meadowed peninsula and was startled when a male duck exploded into panicked quacking flight from virtually at my feet. Just about ten yards later, after my surprised heart  returned to its normal rhythm, the shoreline again exploded into feathery hysteria, only this time it was Mrs. Duck. However, Mrs. Duck only flew about 25 yards away and quacked out a series of sharp and urgent commands. Emerging from their hiding place in the shoreline grass, about eight downy ducklings swam over to her, whereas she escorted them to safety on the other side of the bay, quacking harsh epithets and curses in my direction all the while. After Papa Duck's sorry performance at the threat of danger posed by myself, I bet Mama Duck probably now refers to him as "Tiny" too.

My lunchtime companion
My turnaround point was at a scenic beach located on the southwest corner of the lake, inasmuch a roundish lake can have actual corners. It was time for a leisurely lollygag, taking in the magnificent alpine scenery surrounding Waldo Lake. Waldo's waters are amazingly ultraoligotrophic (that word means really really really really clear), making the bottom of the lake eminently visible, albeit tinted an amazing blue-green color by the crystalline water. A lake-loving bird came by to visit, entertaining me as it splashed and generally frolicked in the cold water lapping at the shore. I don't know my birds so I can't tell you what kind of bird it was but I can definitely state it wasn't a chicken, penguin, or ostrich, which are pretty much the full extent of my knowledge of all things bird.

View in the direction of the Three Sisters
The day had warmed up quite a bit on the return leg, plus there was a bit more uphill in that direction, so I was a sweaty dripping mess of goo when I made it back to the trailhead. It can get pretty humid in the forest on a hot day! Because I had camped pretty much at the trailhead, I had actually started hiking at 6:30 in the morning and as a consequence, my hike was finished just a little bit past noon. Evening would not arrive until another eight hours and the idea of warring with mosquitoes in the interim didn't sound all that appealing, so I cut this little trip short by one day. Bobby Lake and The Twins will have to wait for my next visit here. That's OK though, for on this trip I certainly felt like I had found Waldo.

Mid-day sun, slanting through the forest
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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